Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Irene Dunne in Roberta (1935)


(director: William A. Seiter; screenwriters: Jane Murfin/Sam Mintz/Allan Scott/Glenn Tryon/based on the musical play “Roberta” by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach/from the novel “Gowns by Roberta” by Alice Duer Miller; cinematographer: Edward Cronjager; editor: William Hamilton; music: Max Steiner; cast: Irene Dunne (Stephanie), Fred Astaire (Huck Haines), Ginger Rogers (Countess Scharwenka/Lizzie Gatz), Randolph Scott (John Kent), Helen Westley (Roberta/Aunt Minnie), Victor Varconi (Ladislaw), Claire Dodd (Sophie), Luis Alberni (Voyda), Lucille Ball (Mannequin); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; RKO; 1935)

“You have to put up with a plot that’s so sticky it doesn’t fly.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

William A. Seiter (“If I had a Million”/”Dimples”/”Broadway”) helms this slight and flat musical ‘woman’s pic’ with Astaire & Rogers, but with Irene Dunne actually being the star. Dunne gets the honor of singing Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Lovely to Look At.” It’s based on the play Roberta, which was based on the novel “Gowns by Roberta” by Alice Duer Miller. It was remade in 1952 as “Lovely to Look At,” which caused it to be removed from circulation so as not to offer competition; in the 1970s it resurfaced on television and in the 1980s became public-domain. Its highlights are the dancing of Fred ‘n’ Ginger,’ especially their number together of “I’ll Be Hard to Handle,” otherwise you have to put up with a plot that’s so sticky it doesn’t fly.

Huck Haines (Fred Astaire) is the leader of the Wabash Indianans, an all-white jazz band, and John Kent (Randolph Scott), a former college football star, is traveling with them. They are disappointed when Alexander Voyda (Luis Alberni), the owner of the Cafe Russe in Paris, changes his mind about hiring them when he finds out that they are not Indians. The strapped for cash John visits his Aunt Minnie (Helen Westley), who uses the trade name of Roberta for the exclusive dressmaking shop she owns. There John meets Stephanie (Irene Dunne), who is a deposed White Russian princess and has become a famed Parisian couturier. Meanwhile Huck meets at Roberta’s Lizzie Gatz (Ginger Rogers), who is a customer. Lizzie was a former lover from his hometown, who is posing as the temperamental cabaret performer Countess Scharwenka. The Countess works at Voyda’s club and forces him to hire Huck’s band or else she threatens to book. In exchange, Huck agrees not to rat her out. John’s snobbish fiancée, Sophie Teale (Claire Dodd), while still in America, dumps him because he’s not sophisticated enough for her. Then Minnie suddenly dies and leaves her business to John. But John has no interest in the business, and to keep the place running forms a partnership with Stephanie. She’s secretly in love with the hunk. When Sophie learns of John’s new business venture, she heads for Paris with her romantic interests rekindled. There you have the romantic formula, as if you couldn’t guess who John chooses in the end.

A good deal of the lavish budget went for costumes (Dunne sports a $6,000 fur coat), which should tell you what this film considered most important. The film did a good box office.